That Time I Hacked My Own Gmail Account

Preface: Because this post deals with a topic for which I don’t really have pictures, I decided to spice it up with photos of animals.

For years, all I have wanted is an email address that is [firstname][lastname]@gmail.com (or my own domain, but I’ve been too lazy to set that up).

You see, back on September 4, 2004, when I created my first Gmail account (when Gmail was still in beta testing and you had to be invited, because I’m so 1337), we still believed in internet anonymity. Most people were not using the [firstname][lastname] convention; most were simply migrating over their old AOL/AIM handles. However, having created my meowzer18 AOL screen-name at age 8, I couldn’t possibly keep that dream alive as a 17-year-old. I settled for my name and a random number, and thus my first Gmail account was born.

But as times changed, we collectively decided that we wanted to be able to be found on the web. As social media crept into our lives, we wanted our friends to find us (and be able to tag us appropriately in an inappropriate amount of questionably appropriate photos, duh!), and as email became more important to our job searches, we began creating email addresses that reflected our real names. (And though we’re slowly starting to desire a bit of anonymity again, most people maintain a [firstname][lastname] email address for professional purposes.)

Of course, when I finally saw the need for a more professional email address, the other Carly Roaches of the world had already taken carlyroach@gmail.com. I created a few variations of my first and last names just to have something more serious to use on job applications, but everything I came up with required a number to be unique — something that I detested. Having a number in your email address had gone out of fashion. No one takes you seriously if you are jonsnow1@gmail.com. It looks like you weren’t forward-thinking enough to jump on the email train early and ensure your rightful [firstname][lastname] address. Sure, I could have gone to Yahoo or AOL or Hotmail, but everyone knows that your email address domain reflects your computer skills, and I couldn’t risk looking like a n00b.

I knew my only option was marriage.

Dobby, Peanut, and their cousin Arya

Embarrassing as it is to admit, I was so driven by my desire for a [firstname][lastname] email address that I created a new email address every time I dated a guy who might be “the one.” Let’s just say I have many an abandoned email address based on past, unsuccessful relationships. Sensing a pattern (date guy + make email address = get dumped), and also knowing that no one in the entire world would ever be named Carly Hublou, I put off creating an email address when I met Kevin until we were engaged, reasoning, as most sports fans do, that something irrelevant that I was doing was affecting the outcome of my relationships. (It doesn’t matter if you wear your lucky socks, sports fanatics; you do not affect the outcome of the game!) I didn’t want to jinx this relationship with my unlucky email-address-making!

I say all that to make my point: I saw carlyhublou@gmail as something I had earned and something that I needed. Changing my name was so much more exciting knowing that I would finally enter the ranks of those with the [firstname][lastname] email-address scheme that I had coveted for so long (11 years, to be exact). I would do anything to protect it, and I would be devastated if I lost it.

Fast forward to June 2, 2016.

In addition to my original and married-name email addresses, I have many other Gmail addresses (because reasons). But I don’t check them all; that would be crazy. I stay signed in to my main account and simply have all of my other addresses forward the mail they receive to the inbox of that main account. Usually, I also tell Gmail to delete all copies of incoming emails from the other accounts after it forwards them to my main account. This way, I’ll never reach my storage limit on these accounts that I never check.

But on June 2, as I was doing some maintenance on my beloved carlyhublou account, I noticed that Gmail had not been deleting the emails in this inbox. I had thousands of emails taking up quite a bit of space. I checked my settings, fixed the problem, and decided to delete everything in my inbox to save space and because I had copies of it all in my main inbox.

Hindsight is 20/20, but looking back, this was a very stupid thing to do.

Here’s a hawk that lands in my backyard sometimes. Probably large enough to carry away Dobby.

Why?

Because Google thought I was a hacker.

It’s not uncommon for hackers to steal users’ accounts, immediately change the password and set up two-factor authentication to keep the rightful user out, and then do asinine things like delete all the emails from an inbox (perhaps after gathering whatever information they may have wanted from your emails).

So when Google saw that thousands of emails had been deleted in a matter of seconds, it disabled my account.

Not locked. Not suspended. Disabled.

“No big deal,” I thought. “I’ll just walk through the recovery process.”

But to recover a Google/Gmail account, you have to be able to verify your identity to a computer — a computer that you can’t plead with or reason with. It knows what answers it needs, and if you don’t provide them exactly as it is expecting to receive them, you’re simply not the owner of that account. To recover a disabled account, you need:

  • The last password you remember having for the compromised account.
  • The date of the last time you were able to log in.
  • The date when you created your account.
  • Five frequent contacts (and these should be contacts to whom you’ve sent mail and from whom you’ve received mail).
  • Four labels you created (not the defaults).
  • Knowledge of all of the other Google services this account has used (e.g., Google Calendar, YouTube).

And you have to match precisely what the computer expects as input. No wiggle room.

Providing this information was problematic for me. Because carlyhublou is an email address that I don’t use via its actual inbox (I receive and send emails for it through my main Gmail account), I never created labels for it, I never used other services with it, and I had never technically contacted anyone with it. (Sending email as carlyhublou via my main Gmail account adds those recipients to the frequently contacted list for my main account, not for carlyhublou.) Despite submitting the form at least 20 times, the computer didn’t believe I was me.

“That’s OK,” I thought. “I’ll call Google’s help desk.”

EXCEPT THERE IS NO GOOGLE HELP DESK.

That’s right; one of (if not the) biggest tech company in the world has no user support (unless you are a Google Apps paid user). I even called Google’s main number, listened carefully  (as their menu options had changed), and found myself listening to an automated man telling me that I can only unlock my Gmail account by completing the account-recovery process.

Now, I understand. Google has millions of users. It’s not probable to staff a help desk to support a user base of this magnitude. Google’s solution is to provide an internet help forum, which is moderated by non-Google-employees who have somehow risen through the ranks of the forum to achieve the status of super loser user. They answer questions and also have access to Google employees if they can’t solve the problems themselves.

The very best friends.

But if you read through the Gmail forum, you’ll see that most users post to complain about the same problem I was having: their accounts got disabled for one reason or another and the account-recovery process isn’t working. Most times, there is no help for these people; they are told their accounts are lost forever, or they are provided a link to a blog that someone created to walk others through the recovery process.

Those are the only options.

(Dear Googs: If that many users are experiencing the same problem with your only option to recover their accounts, perhaps the process for recovering accounts is flawed. Love, Carly, beta tester circa 2004)

Think about it: What else in your life is that secure? Not even your credit-card account is that secure. You can recover a credit-card account by giving a human the last four of your Social Security number and the answers to a few not-so-difficult-to-hack-if-you’re-really-trying security challenges. That doesn’t even come close to the level of scrutiny programmed into Google’s account-recovery process.

Having exhausted my options, I called Kevin, nearly in tears.

Why was I in tears over an email address? Part of it was because I had waited so long to have this email address and now I might never have it again. Part of it was because this was the address through which most of my professional communications took place, and I did not want to have to send that email of shame: “My email address has been disabled and I cannot retrieve it. Please update your records with my new one.” (How embarrassing!)

And part of it was that I realized how much I relied on Google — on one company — just to function every day. Between Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive, a huge chunk of my life belongs in the Google suite of services. How uncanny it felt to have part of my internet identity so abruptly revoked and not be able to get it back. It was a partial glimpse into what life might be like if my real identity were to ever be stolen. I felt lost and helpless.

I called Kevin for emotional support. As he listened to me describe the day’s events to him, he gawked at the ridiculousness of Google’s user help solution. And then from his mouth — er, the phone speaker — poured the most beautiful, romantic words he’s ever uttered to me: “I’ll call Google directly.”

Kevin will be upset if I end this post without a picture of his beloved bird.

To make a long saga shorter, Kevin used a little wizardry (i.e., his sys-admin powers) to find a human at Google and alohomora my account.

As the dark skies over my first-world problems cleared, I felt eternally grateful for all the wonderful things in my cyber life, like Google Play Music curated playlists, the fact that I can add 2GB of storage to my Google Drive each year by completing a security check, and how Gmail adds events to my Google calendar when it senses dates in emails. Google had treated me like a boyfriend who says, “I want to take a break,” and then decides that he really does want to be with me after all (which is never how that story actually goes, by the way), and I felt no shame in running back to its login page.

After the makeup, I got down to business. Google had Scrooged me, and it was time to make sure this never happened again. So, for all of my Google accounts, I made sure I could answer all of those bullet-point criteria I listed above. I created four labels, found the dates the accounts had been created, turned on two-step verification, sent emails to my other accounts so that I would have frequent contacts, etc.

And then I slept soundly that night knowing I wasn’t stuck in another super-depressing episode of Black Mirror.

2014 in Review: Home Projects

Owning a home is hard. I think too many people view owning a home as this magical, fairytale experience that is heartwarming and goal-worthy. And while it can be those things, it’s also a lot of hard work and stress, unless you’re a billionaire with employees who do everything for you.

Too often, I find myself overwhelmed by thinking up projects to do. One of the first and best pieces of advice I received (from a random stranger on the Internet, no less) was “write everything down.” It seems obvious and simple, but I hadn’t taken the time to do it. With Kevin’s help, I compiled a list of home-improvement goals—a combination of small projects that we can easily accomplish and projects that are more expensive and would require a contractor. Once we complete a project, we move it to a “completed” list. I can’t recommend this enough. I’m always so quick to feel deflated because there is so much I want to do and I feel like I’ve done nothing, but then I look at my list and remember that we have, indeed, done a lot this year.

Plus, home improvement is a function of time, money, and ability. If you’re lazy, miserly, and only slightly skilled, as we are, projects are seldom and move at a snail’s pace.

Below is a gallery of most of our completed projects from this year.

The Raised Garden Beds

Raised garden beds.

Simply put, I was tired of the weed-ridden, dog-trampled, always-in-the-way garden Kevin had planted when we first moved in. We both liked the look and idea of raised garden beds, but they can be very pricey if you buy them in the store. For example, we saw kits at Costco and Sam’s Club, and both were selling them for $80+ (and that’s BEFORE the cost of filling these deep beds with dirt!). We, of course, decided to build them ourselves, which required us to buy the circular saw that Kevin had been longing for. All of the credit for this project goes to Kevin. He was the one who creatively though to use treated fence posts as the siding, instead of the more expensive treated 2x4s. We used cardboard as the bottom (not that you need a bottom, but this helps keep weeds from infiltrating the beds), and we used the clearance wood (i.e., the wood that came in dented and chipped) as the stakes for our climbing plants. I thought the beds turned out beautifully, and we plan on building more in the spring for our re-vamped herb garden.

The Rain Barrel

Our water-diverting rain barrel.

Kevin and I had been wanting a rain barrel for a long, long time but didn’t want to spend the $90+ they can cost. At one point, we purchased a huge plastic drum (similar to the ones Walter White acidified dead bodies in in “Breaking Bad”) on Craigslist, thinking we could make our own. We had every intention of doing so; we even purchased the hardware from Home Depot (HD)! But a few weeks later, HD had a sale on all of their overpriced rain barrels, rendering them much more affordable, so we caved and bought one. I spent an hour putting it together, with Kevin helping when it came time to drill the nozzle holes and connect it to our gutter downspout. The hose connection is at the very bottom of the barrel, so to ensure proper water flow and elevation if we ever attach a hose, we placed the rain barrel on two concrete blocks. The cool things about this rain barrel are A) I can plant flowers on top (we chose purslane because it is perennial and does well in pots), and B) it features a water diverter, so when the rain barrel fills up, the diverter then sends water down the downspout instead of into the barrel. Cool!

The Brick Patio

Amateur brick patio.

When we moved in, the area behind our screened porch was mostly dirt/mud mixed with a tree stump and some gross weeds. I had never seen a porch lead to just dirt, and I didn’t like it. Sometimes a girl just wants to stand outside without getting her feet muddy. At some point, there had a been an extensive brick pathway all over the yard, bordered on both sides by railroad ties. (We discovered this as Kevin was digging his first garden.) Over the years, the path had been overtaken by weeds and grass. It would have been much too much work to try to uncover the entire path; we had no idea how large it was, but we knew it traversed at least half of our back yard. Plus, most of the railroad ties we unearthed were rotten. Instead, I dug up hundreds of the bricks and reworked them into a very amateur brick patio leading from the porch. It took two tries, and it’s still uneven, but I’m not going to redo it again—slinging bricks around is backbreaking, perhaps some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. My beginner patio serves its purpose, so I’m satisfied…for now.

The Composter

Composting is a great way to reuse your food scraps to create fertilizer for your garden. Like rain barrels, real composters are very expensive. We had seen one we really liked at Sam’s Club, but it was $80 and, to us, not worth the cost. To try to make a cheap version, Kevin purchased a 30-gallon, plastic, outdoor trash can from HD, drilled some holes in the side (for air circulation), and added earthworms (to break down the food). To mix the compost (which has to be done to stir in new items and circulate nutrients), he would either use a shovel or put the top on, turn it on its side, and roll it around a few times. It was arduous and messy but good enough.

Then, on a serendipitous expedition to the dark corners of our Sam’s Club, I happened upon the clearance-items rack. Lo and behold, there was a composter, on sale for $30!!! I couldn’t believe it. According to the label, there was nothing wrong with it; it just happened to be the last one they couldn’t sell. Ecstatic, I hurled it into my cart and ran off to show Kevin. With the $10-off coupon I was toting, we got that beautiful space pod for only $20! Though not so fun to put together, it is so much easier to fill and flip than our old garbage can. Needless to say, we now check the clearance rack on every visit to Sam’s Club.

Miscellaneous Projects

This includes a few of our smaller projects. Special thanks to Mr. Hublou for finding, giving, delivering, and installing our sort-of-new, high-efficiency washer and dryer!

Projects for Which I Have No Pictures

Some things we just didn’t photograph…our bad. Here’s a list of those projects.

  • Scraped the master bathroom ceiling to remove moisture bubbles that were forming when hot water was used. Refinished and repainted entire ceiling with moisture-resistant ceiling paint. (This project I did all by myself because Kevin thought it was pointless and refused to help. In the end, he admitted that I did a great job.)
  • GFCI-protected our kitchen and bathroom outlets, and added an outlet to the master bathroom. (Who builds a bathroom with no outlet!?!) These projects were done by my favorite master electrician, my dad!
  • Replaced the overhead light fixtures on the front porch.
  • Purchased a carpet cleaner and cleaned the crap out of our carpets.
  • Built a shelving unit to serve as a pantry (and not as pantry-moth breeding ground!), since our house does not have one.
  • Landscaping…lots and lots of landscaping.

Phew. That’s a lot. Here’s hoping that 2015 finds us just as productive and hardworking!

Dobby in the Sky with Diamonds

The other evening, when I arrived home, Peanut and Dobby seemed normal. Both dogs were happy and eager to go outside, and they very obediently performed several tricks for treats. I settled down with a book, waiting for Kevin to arrive home. After 10 minutes or so, Dobby left my side to stand in the corner of the room. His back to me, he began making heaving noises.

Now, Dobby has what I call an iron stomach. This dog is like a goat. He eats everything and never, ever has a bad reaction. Peanut, on the other hand, has a very sensitive stomach, the balance of which can be thrown off by simply breathing too much air.

Dobby on adoption day.

So when I heard Dobby making the tell-tale regurgitation noises, I was surprised, and I ran to his side to hold him as he vomited up his breakfast, his treats, and a ton of dark, medium-sized seeds.

Weird, I thought. Dobby was only outside for about 10 minutes, certainly not enough time to ingest the amount of seeds that I just saw leave his tiny body.

After that, everything was fine for about an hour, but then Dobby began to change. His eyes grew wider, like he was in a constant state of surprise. His whole body twitched every now and then, and sometimes he would shake like he was cold. He walked strangely, like each movement was a huge strain, and his back legs extended out further than usual. Mostly, he would stare into space, his breathing pattern a strange requiem of quick, loud inhales followed by inaudible exhales.

My dog is going to die, I thought. But I resisted the urge to take him to the emergency vet because A) it is extremely expensive, and B) he clearly had eaten something bad but had already barfed up most of it, meaning there was probably nothing left in his system to harm him and nothing that an expensive emergency vet could really do to help. He was just going to have to endure.

Of course, Peanut, being a bigger jerk than usual, took advantage of Dobby’s deranged state by tormenting him. She pawed at him trying to get him to play, growled at him in consternation, and even used her teeth to attempt to drag her blanket out from under him when he plopped down on it, much like a magician attempting to remove a tablecloth from a dining table. Dobby, meanwhile, ignored all of her advances, as if Peanut were not even part of his world, and for the rest of the night, he simply sat and stared.

The next morning, Dobby seemed back to normal, though slightly sluggish. Outside, I checked his morning deposit for any sign of seeds but saw none. I began the hunt for the mystery seeds, relieved that my dog had survived the night.

I checked the bag of wild bird seed, and it was clipped tight. I checked Cheepy’s seeds, even though I knew the mystery seeds were not in his mixture (which Dobby sneaks bites out of all the time).

Then, it dawned on me. I had failed to check the one place that only Dobby goes: under the bed.

Dobby has shown an affinity for being underneath things since the day we adopted him. He frequently seeks shelter under our bed to escape Peanut or have some alone time. We often find him half in, half out: his head and front legs under the bed, his butt and hind legs sticking out flat behind him.

And I know that he hides things under there.

Energized by my epiphany, I grabbed a flashlight, lifted the bed skirt (“WHY DO WE NEED THIS?” roars Kevin every time we make the bed), and nearly collapsed with laughter at what I found.

There was an empty, cardboard bullet box (chewed to pieces), which had fallen from Kevin’s nightstand at some point. There were no less than three open condoms, some still in the wrapper, some strewn about, their packages torn to shreds. (These came from Kevin’s survival backpack, which we keep in another room. Only Kevin would think to practice safe sex during the zombie apocalypse.)

I made this picture of Peanut a while ago and now it’s finally (somewhat) relevant.

And then there were the seeds, lying in a pile next to the empty plastic bag from which they came. I retrieved the bag: morning-glory seeds!

Kevin originally purchased the seeds back in February, just after we had a huge tree cut down. The tree cutters had left a 7-foot stump, claiming they couldn’t cut any lower because of our fence. Puzzled over what to do with this ugly stump, Kevin thought it would be visually appealing to plant some morning-glory vines. Indeed, the stump is beautiful now: the vines climbed the entire stump (and the tree canopy above) and produced an abundance of royal purple flowers that bloom every morning.

And while morning-glory seeds do spawn beautiful flowers, they also produce psychedelic effects if ingested.

Unbeknownst to us, Dobby had found the seed package, dragged it to the depths of his under-the-bed lair, and ingested nearly all of its contents.

Though I felt horrible, I could not stop laughing at my discovery. Dobby certainly had his vices: condoms, bullets, and psychedelic drugs. I can only imagine what Dobby’s trip was like, and I hope that he at least had a good one.

“Maybe he finally saw in color,” my friend Chris suggested.

(For the record, Dobby is back to normal, suggesting that there were no long-term effects of his wild night.)

Double-Dog Dare

As you may have gathered from previous posts, my family is rather…strange. One of our favorite hobbies (though neither my sister nor I will admit it) is making up silly songs to describe what’s happening and singing them over and over until the men in the family can’t take it anymore. Many have told me how amazing (or did they say annoying…?) it is that I can make a song out of anything. It’s true, and it’s a skill I get from my mother, who in turn gets it from her mother.

My mother also enjoys forcing people to join her in song and dance by locking them in vehicles until they sing along with her.

One afternoon during my high school years, as my mother was driving me to my part-time job, she witnessed another driver making an illegal maneuver. At the time, her car’s dashboard was decorated with a stuffed-animal eagle dressed as a mail carrier—a gift from USPS for my mom’s hard work and years of service. And so, armed with the rage of a woman scorned on the road, and also having in her viewing range this stuffed eagle, my mother coined a phrase that still comes up in our household: illegal eagle.

eagle

This is what the “illegal eagle” looked like.

But you don’t just say “illegal eagle” when you see something illegal happening. Rather, you repeat it five to ten times in a monotone voice, sort of like a robot. It can also be shouted if you are especially excited.

So, on this day that shall live in infamy as the day my mother coined “illegal eagle,” she ditched her scorn for sheer excitement over her discovery. An onlooker might have thought she had just written the next great opera. She would not stop chanting “illegal eagle.” What’s worse is that she insisted that I join in.

“Come on, just say it!” she pleaded.

“No. It’s stupid!” And it was. It really, really was. Also, I was 15, so I was in that “must-always-disagree-with-authority” phase.

“Just say it once. ONCE!” If nothing else, my mother is persistent. But I decided to be just as stubborn and not say the phrase.

At this point we had pulled up to my job and it was time for me to get out. Just as I reached for the door handle (my saving grace from this ridiculous situation), my mother perma-locked the doors with that handy “child-lock” button equipped on newer cars. (Even as an adult, I find it very insulting when I can’t open the “child-locked” doors and/or windows.)

I glanced back at her, shocked. With the most triumphant look on her face, she said calmly, “You have to say it before you get out of the car.”

You have got to be kidding me.

“Mom, I’m going to be late!”

“JUST SAY IT!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Fine.”

And I said it. But just once.

“No, you have to do it multiple times in a row.” Always the trickster, she had roped me in for more than we bargained for.

“ILLEGAL EAGLE. ILLEGAL EAGLE. ILLEGAL EAGLE!!!!!!!!!” I screamed.

And then we both burst out laughing, because it is really fun to say, especially when you say it the recommended five to ten times.

In the same vein, last Thanksgiving, my mother, sister, and I made up the following song. I don’t remember who or what started it, but the lyrics are:

Double-dog dare
Double-dog dare
Can’t back down from a double-dog dare

There is a tune that goes with it too, but unfortunately I cannot convey it for you. (Be like a Roach girl and just make one up!)

So, for the longest time, I have been double-dog-daring Kevin to get a second dog.

I love Peanut. She is my best friend, my animal soul-mate, my spirit dog. We share an unbreakable bond, and she has been with me through some of my toughest life moments: breakups, long-distance relationships, etc. I truly feel that she is a part of me, and when I think about her ultimate exit from this world, I feel overwhelmed with emotion. (And don’t ask me why I put myself through this. I guess I’m trying to practice?) And I’m going to need another dog to help me through that emotion when the time comes (hopefully 7 or 8 years from now). Of course, Peanut is by no means an old dog, but I wanted her to have time to play with the new dog and love it and guide it.

After much prompting (and with the promise of free pet adoptions thanks to the Maddie’s Fund Pet Adoption Event), Kevin agreed to let me add a second dog to the mix, with the caveat that the new pup had to weight less than or equal to Peanut (which really isn’t fair because Peanut weighs a lot less than most dogs her size). To make a long, boring story (in which we stand in the adoption line for over an hour) short, we adopted Waldy (as named by the shelter), a Corgi/Rat Terrier mix.

Taken just after we finished the adoption paperwork.

Taken just after we finished the adoption paperwork.

After testing several names (Radar, for his crazy ears, Loki, because it’s cool, and Taco, because…well, I just love tacos), we settled on Dobby, because he looks like the Harry Potter house elf every reader has come to know and love. (But [SPOILER ALERT!!] hopefully Dobby won’t die trying to save us from Bellatrix Lestrange while we are disapparating from Malfoy Manor.)

I caught them in the middle of a moment...

I caught them in the middle of a moment…

The first few days were hard work. Peanut has been fully trained for a long time, and I forgot that dogs don’t come pre-wired for commands like sit, stay, come, and down. As can be expected, Dobby also felt the urge to mark his territory, dribbling pee in a few spots. (Thank goodness for our dark carpet and Nature’s Miracle!) But he learned quickly that pee goes outside, he has to sit to receive love, he has to lie on his bed during mealtimes, and he has to go in his crate at night. He also no longer whines when we leave the house; he knows that we will always return home…eventually. And while Dobby has had a few poo accidents, they always correlate to the times when Kevin is responsible for taking the dogs outside. (Kevin doesn’t have the patience to watch Dobby and make sure he stays outside until he poops, and then he acts surprised when Dobby poops inside. We have had zero pooping issues when the dogs are on my watch.)

Dobby basking in the sunlight.

Dobby basking in the sunlight.

The best part about Dobby is that he fills the cuddling void. Peanut has never been a very cuddly dog. Sure, she loves curl up near me and get belly rubs, but she always sleeps at the foot of the bed (her choice) or the other end of the couch. She’s very independent. While Dobby likes to do his own thing (as I write, he is sitting at the window barking his balls off at probably nothing outside), he also loves to curl up in my lap or near my hand (if it is placed near the floor) and just lie there for as long as I will let him. And he melts my heart when he stares lovingly into my eyes as I pat his little head. (I like to imagine that he has a deep voice with a Spanish accent. He is very suave.)

Biting each other's faces tenderly: a fun dog game.

Biting each other’s faces tenderly: a fun dog game.

He is really silly too. For the first few days, he did not understand that the full-length-mirror doors of the hallway closet were showing his reflection rather than another dog. He barked at himself for days until he figured it out. (He did the same with the sliding glass doors in our dining room when it was dark outside and he could see his reflection.) He also does this running slide move in our non-carpeted areas, where he tries to change direction quickly but can’t so he just slides to slow himself.

Big dog in a little bed.

Big dog in a little bed.

 

Peanut has been taking it pretty well. She plays rather aggressively, but Dobby is learning how to keep up with her. Peanut also likes to hide all the bones and steal all the toys. But Dobby is wily, and when Peanut steals his toys, he can be found circling the house with a giant Peanut toy somehow clasped in his jaws. Peanut is so jealous that she even has been found sleeping in Dobby’s bed (probably just because it was something new on the floor that she had to test) and trying to shove herself into his crate. (The first night we set up Dobby’s crate, Peanut weaseled herself into it, so we shut her in to show her that it’s really not Peanut-sized. I think she learned the lesson.) It’s easy to teach an old dog new tricks (Peanut has learned a few since Dobby came into the pack, like sitting quietly to wait for her food), but no one ever talks about how hard it is to teach an only-dog how to share with his/her new sibling.

(And, of course, as I’m writing all these wonderful things about him, Dobby chewed a tiny hole in the carpet…)

 

Surviving Homeownership

I have finally moved in and settled down, both into our new house and into my new job, and feel sane enough to resume blogging. As someone who has rented apartments for the past 8 years, the transition to homeownership has been a roller coaster of fear and excitement. Kevin can attest to the stress I have put myself through over the past 2 months. Between closing on and deep cleaning the new house, packing and cleaning the old house, traveling for Thanksgiving, buying presents and traveling for Christmas, ending my old job, and starting a new job (phew!), I declined into a constant state of anxiety.

To anyone considering undertaking a new adventure, I highly recommend tackling only one life change per annum.

Though excited about all of these huge changes, I was freaking out about everything. I called Kevin at work in tears one day, certain that I had found a termite and that we would now have to pay millions of dollars to deconstruct and rebuild the house. I still don’t know what kind of bug I found, but after hours of research, I determined that it was not a termite, and I can now differentiate between termites and ants. To any experienced homebuyer, bugs are a natural part of moving into a house that has been vacant for several months. However, I found so many and such variety of bugs that I was sure I would never be able to live comfortably in my new house.

This, of course, was irrational. A month after our move (and some serious self-pest-control initiatives), I rarely see a bug inside the house, if ever, and Peanut keeps watch over the backyard.

Peanut on the prowl.

For the record, some of my other freak-outs included the following:

  • Situation: Someone down the street was burgled.
    • Fear: Robbers.
    • Irrational Carly Conclusion: We need a monitored alarm.
    • Final Outcome: We’re fine. We have a dog for an alarm.
  • Situation: There is an off-colored spot on the ceiling.
    • Fear: The ceiling is leaking.
    • Irrational Carly Conclusion: We need a new roof.
    • Final Outcome: We’re fine. It’s not leaking. The roof is 3 years old.
  • Situation: There was a funny smell coming out of an electrical outlet when the cover was removed.
    • Fear: There is mold in the walls.
    • Irrational Carly Conclusion: We need a new house.
    • Final Outcome: We’re fine. Every house has some mold. Nothing is perfect. Life will go on.

These days, I feel like my normal self and am absolutely loving being a homeowner, mostly because it means that I will not be moving my house-load of crap for at least 5 years (fingers crossed). Having moved three times since July 2012, the thought of never moving again is a sweet release. I have also learned that owning a house means that, yes, unplanned repairs will be necessary, and they will occur at the most inconvenient time in your life possible, but most things are manageable and don’t require an immediate emotional breakdown. Plus, we’re aggressive savers; if we have to pay for a repair, we probably will be able to, or we will learn to live without (looking at you, toilets that won’t stop hissing!).

So what are the perks of owning a home? I’m still discovering them myself, but here is a collection of what I love so far:

  • Trash pickup and recycling. No longer do we have to trudge copious amounts of drippy garbage a quarter mile across the apartment complex. The trash man comes to us! And, since we now have recycling bins, we barely make any trash at all; most of what we use goes to recycling or the compost bin. We only throw away un-compostable food and un-recyclable plastic. Our huge reduction in waste makes me really excited.
  • Fixing it up. I never thought that laborious work would be fun, but it is when you own your house! Things like re-sealing the roof, digging up bricks, cutting down dead trees, deconstructing and burning the rotten shed, and replacing small plumbing fixtures are all fun adventures rather than tasks from hell. (As the installer of all things I can’t do myself, I’m sure Kevin has a different opinion.) And small improvements make a big difference; it feels (and smells…) like a totally different house from the one we purchased. Every time I improve something, I imagine the house smiling on the inside, happy to be so loved and cared for after years of neglect. (See also: anthropomorphism.)

New faucet!

  • Decorating. Want to color the walls with crayon? Chalkboard paint? Go ahead. The house is your canvas. No permissions necessary.
  • Mailbox. I have a real mailbox, and it doesn’t require a key or a stroll, and it’s right outside my door!
  • Hanging out on the roof. (No commentary needed.)
  • Wanting to be cleaner. When I lived with my parents, I was always in trouble for having a messy room. My argument (however untrue) was, “It’s my room and I like it this way!” My father’s retort, without fail, was, “Well, it’s my house and I don’t want it to look like a pig pen! When you own a house, you can do whatever you want!” Naturally, this logic really appealed to me. Once I moved out for college, I never moved home again, and every place I lived did, indeed, look like a pig pen. But now that I own my dwelling, I want to make it nice. I want it to be fresh and clean, and I don’t want to leave dirty hideaways that might appeal to bugs. Being a homeowner has made me so eager to keep clean that I find myself with some kind of cleaning device in hand nearly every day. Thanks, Dad. I get it now.
  • No HOA. Though homeowners’ associations provide a lot of benefits, they also cause a lot of undue cost, stress, and pain. I’ll mow my own lawn and skip the community pool (inevitably full of germs, icky band-aids, and piss) in exchange for doing what I want with my land and structures, thank you very much. The last thing I need is another level of government telling me how to live my life. (See also: Libertarianism, HOA tyranny.)
  • Cheaper than rent. Okay, so maybe the house payment (which equals mortgage + taxes + insurance) isn’t cheaper than my Gainesville rent was, but it is cheaper than my Tampa rent was—and it’s 600 SF larger.
  • Fenced-in yard. I no longer have to endure the freezing morning air while my dog takes her dear sweet time sniffing out the perfect place to unload. She can stay out as long as she wants and freeze her teats off; I’ll stay inside and drink coffee. (Side note: I just learned how to spell “teats” and also that Googling “teets” is NSFW.)
  • No shared walls. Time to see just how high we can turn up that sub-woofer before our ears explode! TURN IT UP TO 11!!!
  • No annoying maintenance guy who leaves his skinned hunting prizes on the hood of his truck to dry out during the day and then steals your plants because he thought you had already moved out of your previous apartment, even though some of your items were still clearly sitting inside the living room!! Yeah, you know who you are, creeper. RIP jasmine, rosemary, basil, and lantanas. I hope you’re not dead.

Of course, I’m sure there are plenty of things I will miss about apartmentship, like stress-free living, sharing walls (a bane, but at least someone might hear you scream if you’re in trouble), and mega dumpsters for disposing of large items (or bodies) easily.

Speaking of getting rid of bodies, Gainesville’s handbook for garbage collection strictly prohibits disposing of dead animals in your residential garbage cart. So while we may be surviving homeownership, someone’s pet did not. RIP, Fido. Despite an unceremonious removal from this life, your memory lives on in every new-resident garbage-collection pamphlet.